Labour chiefs claim police Starmer lockdown investigation is a ‘smear’ campaign

Alex Norris asked if Keir Starmer should resign if fined

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Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said: “I think that this is a non-story, a kind of smear.” Labour are celebrating wins in last week’s local elections, which saw them gain 261 council seats and overall control of eight local authorities. There were spectacular victories in the London boroughs of Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet, with Sir Keir’s party snatching control from the Conservatives on all three councils.

But the gains were overshadowed by Durham Constabulary’s announcement that it has launched “an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations”. This followed reports the Labour leader, his Deputy Angela Rayner and party activists enjoyed food and drink in a constituency office, during a break from campaigning in last year’s Hartlepool by-election.

Sir Keir is in a particularly difficult position because he said in January that Boris Johnson “should do the decent thing and resign” simply because police had decided there was enough evidence to justify an investigation into the Prime Minister. London’s Metropolitan Police later issued fines to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak for attending a Downing Street birthday party.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he would not “entertain” the prospect of Sir Keir resigning over the alleged lockdown breach. He insisted: “I have absolute faith and confidence that Keir Starmer did the right thing all the way along.”

However, Labour MP Diane Abbott, the former Shadow Home Secretary, said Sir Keir should “consider his position” if he did eventually receive a fine.

Conservatives accused the Labour leader of hypocrisy. Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said: “Given that Sir Keir demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister just for being investigated, I am shocked that he has now decided that he shouldn’t resign himself.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio: “We’ve got to let the police carry out their investigation and that’s only right and responsible. I do think though, that the public will be uncomfortable with the hypocrisy.”

He added: “The one thing I’m sure every Cabinet Minister will say to you, and Minister will say to you, is it’s important for the police to carry out their investigation. And let’s wait for that before we jump to any conclusions.”

Police faced mounting pressure to re-examine allegations of wrongdoing by the opposition leader after footage emerged of Sir Keir drinking a beer in the Durham office of Labour MP Mary Foy in April 2021.

A ban on indoor mixing between households was in place at the time, while non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open.

Liberal Democrats meanwhile are jubilant after gaining 189 council seats last week, and overall control of three local authorities including Hull. They also won control of two newly-formed councils.

In a move likely to add to Tory nerves, Lib Dems have drawn up a “hit list” of ten Conservative MPs who they say would lose their seats if Thursday’s local election results were replicated in a general election.

These include Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, whose constituency of Esher and Walton in Surrey would return a Lib Dem MP. Other Tories under threat include Solicitor General Alex Chalk and former Welsh Secretary John Redwood.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey is to continue his calls for a temporary cut in VAT from 20% to 17.5%, giving the average household a £600 to help with the cost of living crisis, as he believes it proved to be a popular message on the doorsteps.

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